The Rite of Spring in Concert

Nicholas Roerich, The Ritual Circle

The latest installment of David Nice’s splendid Russian Music course featured conductor Andrew Litton as the invited guest. After 35 years of conducting orchestral music, Litton has taken up the baton at the New York City Ballet, a staple of which is music of Stravinsky, choreographed by George Balanchine.

The New York City Ballet, with Balanchine still at the helm, constituted my introduction to live ballet performance. I loved those ballets, precisely for the reason Litton conveyed in class. As he put it, Balanchine’s belief was “Dance to the music; don’t music to the dance.”

While the New York City Ballet repertoire includes numerous ballets that Balanchine choreographed to Stravinsky scores, The Rite of Spring isn’t one of them. We learned that Balanchine said of the Rite that it’s perfect as it is and doesn’t need dance. Apparently Stravinsky said something to the same effect on first hearing a concert performance of the work.

Note: Nicholas Roerich designed the original sets for The Rite of Spring. The image at the head of the post is one of them. Roerich wrote to Diaghilev of his artistic vision for the Rite:

I have been studying Russian (and Slavic) antiquity for twenty years now, and I find beautiful traits in it, wonderful scenes which the pubic must be reminded of. In the whirlwind of contemporary life the public often forgets about the distant life when people know how to rejoice, when they understood the beautiful cosmogony of Earth and Sky. In the ballet Sacre du Printemps, conceived by Stravinsky and myself, I wanted to present scenes of the joy of Earth and the exultation of Sky in a Slavic context. [cite]

Listening List

The Rite of Spring, Part 2, The Sacrifice, with Andrew Litton conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

The whole performance is available on Spotify, together with a concert performance of Petrushka, here.

Bonus Track (with thanks to David Nice for locating this video)

More Bonus Tracks

Andrew Litton walks us through Gershwin’s Concerto in F

Andrew Litton conducts and performs Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm